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Publication Date: 2019-02-27

Behind the Design

The Pleasure of Detailed, Well Designed Tile from Clé Tile

The boundary between artist and artisan is constantly blurred. Whenever comfortable definitions seem to develop, a new round of makers challenges us to rethink our understanding. Trained as a sculptor and designer, Deborah Osburn started a blog in 2009 called Tile Envy to express her appreciation of artisanal tile — a sentiment that was, at the time, more common in Europe than in the United States. Tile Envy eventually grew into an online sourcing destination, clé tile (pronounced clay), featuring imaginative work by Osburn and other artists, whose pleasure in the process of creation is visible in the final product. Clé's tiles draw from a wealth of historical traditions. Within a room design, the tiles are easily positioned as either a subtle, artful detail or the center of attention.

Each year finds clé tile in a new moment of transformation. In 2018, clé launched more than 20 new products. Here, we are highlighting three innovative lines by clé that further enhance the artistry of their work: Belgian Reproduction, Architect’s Palette, and Zellige. Discover these innovative, deeply detailed tiles below.

Design: clé tile | Photography: Laurie Frankel

Belgian Reproduction

Inspired by a refined and rustic aesthetic, clé tile crafted a collection of exquisite tile referencing the cultivated beauty of Flemish design. After trying various materials to find the perfect effect, the company discovered a rich, blackened clay that matched their vision, and woodfired the clay to achieve warmth and depth in projects both indoors and out.

In the image above, a star and cross design in Flemish black is held together with a black grout.

Design: clé tile | Photography: Laurie Frankel

Hexagonal tiles, shown here in Flemish black with gray grout, follow the geometric tile trend, while still feeling wholly unique.

Design/Photography: Paige Christensen

Architect's Palette

For this selection of hand-hewn tiles, elongated planks of terracotta tile are created from rustic Italian clay and coated in a silky matte finish. The soft, subtle colors of the clay defer to the shapes and lines of the surrounding architecture. In Italy, this thin band of tile known as a "listello" was traditonally used as a border in design, but it's now used as a field tile. The form fits easily within an elevated herringbone, stack, and subway pattern, and it can be used on walls, wet spaces, and floors with low traffic.

Here, the Architect's Palette in blotter complements the natural tone of the wood countertops and pulls.

Design/Photography: Paige Christensen

The same subway pattern strikes a sophisticated, natural note in a wider view of this bohemian kitchen.

Design/Photography: Zio and Sons


Also known as zillij or zellij, zellige is the Arabic word for tile, and it dates back to the tenth century, when Islamic civilizations began frequently adorning mosques and mausoleums with glazed brick. The clay comes in a rich terracotta that imparts its original hue even through glazes. After baking with olive pits in wood-fired kilns, the tile hardens, and its outer layers transform into a glossy surface flecked with specks, pits, and chips left behind from the firing process. Variegated edges and high gloss make for tile that revels in its own juxtapositions.

Here Zellige glazed terracotta in weathered white is assembled in a stacked pattern. 

Design: Studio DB | Photography: Matthew Williams

Zellige glazed terracotta square tile in weathered white, stacked with the aid of white grout, helps create a calming, contemporary environment in the bath/shower area.

Design: Amber Interior | Photography: Tessa Neustadt

In this bathrom, Zellige glazed terracotta in battled armor with black grout allows for a touch of texture, playing off other elements in the design.

Design: Garden Studio | Photography: Nick Gingold

Zellige glazed terracotta in tempered steel with natural gray grout adds a hint of interest to this double-height pool design.


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